A long and winding road through the Joshua Tree National Park on Monday, January 18, took us back to US 10, heading west to Palm Springs CA - just about an hour away. Palm Springs' main street, S. Palm Canyon Drive, has lovely shops, lots of sweet-smelling vines and flowers, and a picturesque mountain backdrop. But this MLK Day, the downtown was eerily quiet due to COVID restrictions and all of the restaurants were strictly take-out. We ordered a pizza to-go from Brickworks Bistro and found a park bench to sit at. Not our idea of fine dining. We stayed at probably the nicest Extended Stay America in the chain (we've sadly seen some awful ones and have sworn off them for good). It was one of the few hotels that didn't tack on a California Resort Fee of over $20. We settled down early, with plans to visit Painted Canyon in the morning - thanks to the recommendation of our good friend Laura.
The hour-long drive to Painted Canyon took us by the Cochella Valley National Wildlife Reserve and then past desert farms with their high pressure irrigation systems creating bright undulating arches of white water. Vineyards to the left, palm trees to the right; then fields of lettuce alongside freshly plowed rows of newly planted future crops; then groves of fruit trees and more vineyards bordered by tidy neighborhoods with that gorgeous mountain background. Approaching our destination, we appreciated our all-wheel drive and the bright sunshine as we made our way slowly along a jaw-jarring "road" of soft sand and gravel. We finally reached an open area where a couple of cars were parked - I guess this is it? We bundled up for the cool 50's temperature, packed some water bottles, and started the slightly up-hill trek through soft sand, pebbles, and stones - imagine a summer hike across a Cape Cod sand dune to that coveted spot on the beach - only here your reward is one of California's best slot canyon hikes.
About 1/4 of a mile from the parking lot there is an arrow made of stones on the valley floor pointing to the left. When you look at where the arrow points, you will not believe there is really a trail there - it looks just like the remnants of countless rock slides. But it truly is the way to go - if you want to take the "Ladder Canyon Loop". But we had done some reading before-hand - the loop takes 3-4 hours and is a "difficult hike that should only be attempted if you are in very good shape, and you are properly prepared with the right equipment, water, and other hiking necessities." That really didn't describe us...but we were curious enough to at least take a peek at the beginning of the trail.
They call it "Ladder Canyon" because in order to reach it you need to navigate several ladders that are "maintained by volunteers, and can be a little treacherous especially if they have broken rungs". We gave the first one a try, but it was clear that we weren't up to it this day. Instead, we headed back to the main "Big Painted Canyon" trail - which was plenty adventurous for us. It was very scenic and Richard got lots of opportunity for his "abstract" photos of up-close rock faces.
There were storm clouds gathering in the distance and the wind was picking up, so we headed back to the car. It was fun to watch other vehicles approaching us, doing the sand dance in the washboard of a road leading out. We hit pavement just as the drizzle began. We planned to revisit Palm Springs on our return trip, but for now we were washing off the dust and packing up for San Diego.
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Nancy McCabe &